LA County Considering Sending Mail Ballots to All Voters

Los Angeles County said it will have to conduct a cost analysis to see if the measure would efficiently ease lines for the November election.

Voters wait on line at a polling station at the University of Southern California on Tuesday, March 3, 2020.
AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio

Reacting to the hours-long waits that occurred at some voting centers during the primary election, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla called on Los Angeles County Thursday to automatically send vote-by-mail ballots to every voter in the county ahead of the November general election.

"Fifteen counties, including Los Angeles County, conducted their elections under the Voters Choice Act," Padilla said in a statement. "In the 14 other Voters Choice Act counties, every voter received their ballot by mail 29 days in advance of the election and had multiple options for returning their ballot. Los Angeles must do the same.

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"I am calling on Los Angeles County to mail every registered voter a ballot for the November 3, 2020, general election in addition to improving the performance of vote centers," he said. "This would be a first, but important,
step in better meeting the needs of the largest, most diverse voting jurisdiction in the nation."

Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan said the idea will have to undergo a cost analysis.

"A proposal to mail ballots to an estimated 2 million voters who have not previously voted by or requested a vote-by-mail ballot must include an evaluation of the costs, contractual authority, capacity and reliability of the providers and systems needed to meet legally required timelines for vote by mail, sample ballots and other required election notices," he said.

People waited for hours in Los Angeles to cast their ballots in person, many in lines stretching around buildings and down streets. Gordon Tokumatsu reports for the NBC4 News on Wednesday, March 4, 2020.


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Logan said expansion of the vote-by-mail option should be explored, but more is required.'' He also said the county needs to increase voter awareness of the availability of early voting under the new system and the benefits of interactive sample ballots.

He noted that expanding vote-by-mail distribution would not address the issues of voters who wanted to take advantage of the newly offered same-day registration.

Thousands of voters during Tuesday's election were greeted with extensive lines at various vote centers across Los Angeles County. Some voters were still waiting in line past 11 p.m., more than three hours after the polls had technically closed.

State law requires that people be allowed to vote if they were in line prior to the polls closing.

The county's election was the first under the new system, in which about 1,000 vote centers were placed around the county and were open for 11 days, allowing voters to cast their ballots at any time at any location. The old system had roughly 4,500 precinct locations open only on election day.

Logan earlier attributed Tuesday's problem on a variety of factors, most notably an over-estimation of how many voters would take advantage of the early voting opportunities. Only about 250,000 voters did so, meaning the vast majority of them flocked to the more limited number of vote centers on election day.

Logan also said there were technical issues with the electronic check-in system at the vote centers — used to ensure voters only cast one ballot — creating a bottleneck of people as they arrived. He said once people cleared the check-in system, the touch-screen voting process went smoothly.

Padilla said the county needs to re-evaluate the locations of the voting centers. He also said some of the centers were "understaffed and under-equipped," and some workers were "insufficiently trained."

Logan said his office will be conducting a thorough analysis of the issues that arose Tuesday.

"Tuesday's primary provides a wealth of data that did not exist prior to the election," he said. "It is incumbent upon us to evaluate and use that data in developing holistic solutions that address the complexity and diversity of our electorate. That process must be deliberative, collaborative and cautious of shifts that otherwise may not fully address the root causes that led to long lines and wait times for voting on Tuesday."

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